Mortiño is the name given to several species of wild plant, the most common of which in Ecuador is Vaccinium floribunum. It is a wild, woody shrub native to the equatorial Andes. Its fruit is a round or slightly oval small berry 6 to 10 mm in diameter when mature. This berry coloration varies depending on the stage of maturity, starting with a light green when the fruit appears and black when fully mature, passing in turn through various shades of blue and purple. The berry is covered by a whitish-gray surface wax, similar to many American blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) and bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus).
The taste of this fruit changes during the ripening process, starting with a high presence of organic acids and astringent tannins when the fruit is green ending with the maximum presence of sugar and a reduction in acidic and astringent tannins when the fruit is black. Unlike other commercially cultivated species of the Vaccinium genus, mortiño has not been selected or domesticated, and is still harvested from the wild. Its importance has grown lately with the publicity of the beneficial properties of the antioxidants in similar fruits. Studies indicate that there is great potential for the use of mortiño due to the high content of beneficial compounds, antioxidants and their medicinal and nutritional properties.
Traditionally the inhabitants of the areas where mortiño is collected have recognized it as a fruit that soothes rheumatism, reduces fever, menstrual cramps, and relieves symptoms of the flu and liver problems. Even before the Spanish arrival, a porridge known as ayapi was prepared with mortiño. Hand harvesting of the fruit usually occurs twice a year: the first in March and April and the second between October and November. During the second harvest, colada morada, a traditional Ecuadorian drink made for the Day of the Dead is prepared. The fruits are also eaten cooked, but are usually sold as fresh fruit. It is rarely eaten fresh because the ripe mortiños are often mixed with less ripe mortiños, which are somewhat bitter and pungent. Recently, people have started dehydrating the berries for sale as an ingredient for making chocolates and other candies. Also, thanks to its versatility the mortiño is currently used to make desserts such as cakes, jams, pies and ice creams.
Its consumption is important not only for humans who depend on harvesting and selling, but also for a variety of birds and other wild mammals living in the wilderness and streams where the shrub grows. This balanced ecosystem plays a fundamental role in the propagation and dispersal of the plant’s seed. In Ecuador, mortiño grows in the uncultivated lands of the Andes, between 2800 and 4000 m above sea level, from the northern border with Colombia through all provinces of the central highlands of Ecuador: Imbabura, Pichincha, Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, Bolívar. This native species is currently considered endangered due mainly to increased colonization of protected areas previously considered inaccessible to agriculture. Many farmers, unable to understand the fragility of these ecosystems, use the wilderness as growing area, especially for potatoes. Is also evident that reduced production is due to climate change.Back to the archive >